No more coffee cadence at Starbucks: Another look at the test auto brewers.

by Melody on May 22, 2012

About five months ago, I wrote a blog article about a special new single-serve coffee brewer in use at a tiny number of Starbucks stores.  It is a test item that eliminates the  need for baristas to perform any coffee cadence.  My old blog post is here:

Starbucks tests a revolutionary single cup brewer.

This unique coffee brewer has a variety of hoppers atop it, and in a matter of seconds, each cup is brewed on demand.  Unlike a Clover coffee brewer, the selection of coffees is limited by the number of coffees in the bean hoppers on top of this new auto brewer.  With the Clover coffee brewer, a customer can order any coffee they like.

My original blog post had a fairly poor quality photo.  As luck would have it, a blog reader emailed me a much nicer photo of this new special brewer!  And from the reader, I also learned that the test is still in progress, months after my first blog post.  So here it is, a much nicer photo of the test brewers:

What do you think of this special auto brewer?  This IS a much nicer of picture of it!  Thank you to the reader who sent it to me.

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Chase May 22, 2012 at 1:34 am

I always thought something like this could be made and… just… fantastic. This is a barista’s dream, to have something automated to save time on brewing. Every 8 minutes can become tedious, and difficult in the morning rush when we need coffee the most!

Lia May 22, 2012 at 4:14 am

Wow! This is a baristas dream (trust me I am one!) I would love to be able to focus more on customer experience and sampling instea of having to keep one ear (and eye) on the brewer timer all day long. This seems genius, a fresh cup of coffee for every customer, brewed on demand! I can see problems with orders of four or five venti pikes though, as the speed might be an issue (but at least I wouldn’t have to worry about runnin out of coffee :)

DadCooks May 22, 2012 at 6:46 am

This is nothing more than a scaling up of a system that is in high end coffee vending machines.

I can understand why baristas would like this machine. IMHO coffee cadence is a failure for many reasons, not the least of which is that Starbucks paid no attention to work flow and labor.

As a customer, I do not like this. How long before this machine comes out from behind the counter and is just like the soda machines at all the other fast food places. That would make the folks who don’t like to interact with human beings happy, just swipe your Starbucks Card, select the size cup you want, the cup drops out of a bin and you push the button for your “coffee”.

When this happens Starbucks will have “jumped the shark”.

Becca May 22, 2012 at 6:57 am

While I agree with DadCooks its kindof crazy to make everything so automated it would be great for the staff. There are many times that I can’t have the conversation I want to have with a customer because I am needing to grind and brew as well as restock the food and clean the cafe. My only issue as a partner is that if it’s that automated what happens when it breaks! No coffee at Starbucks? Americanos all around? Cadence is a pain but I really love that we are grinding often enough to bring that wonderful aroma front and center. Plus like with anything else we do there are months of testing and reasons behind everything. It was someone’s project to solve the coffee running out problem, just like this may be a solution to the overbrewing problem.

Becca May 22, 2012 at 7:02 am

Can the person who took the picture answer these questions:
Am I right to assume that there is always pike and bold ready?
Does it give you the ability to brew small sizes on demand for example tall decaf or venti blonde?
How is it to maintain?
Do they break a lot?
Do you have to fill the hoppers on a ladder?
Do you like to use it? Does it free you up to do other things?

denise r May 22, 2012 at 7:13 am

As soon as I looked at the picture, I was just about to write literally the same thing that DadC…did. Looks like 7-11 to me. And, of course it would be a dream to baristas. I remember ~2000 when it was a dream to SOME of them…those who really didn’t care what a shot of espresso tasted like……when the automated shots came out. :( We did a test one day, when they first came out..(.and eventually became the standard of almost all the Sbux)…. the taste of a manual shot and the ‘push-button’s was hugely different. Of course, if you wanted to stay a Sbux customer, for whatever reason, you had to just accept this. However, it was then that I increased my number of shots by two…… or, I should say: I felt, as well as many others back then, that it took two of the new shots to taste remotely like a manually pulled shot.
This doesn’t seem like a good direction for Sbux to me.

Jennifer May 22, 2012 at 7:31 am

I think the machine has some great advantages. Generally, we brew decaf until about noon. We are brewing quarter to half batches, and MAYBE using 1 cup, max 2, out of this. It creates a lot of waste- not just of time, but of product. I can see the machine replacing the waste of of brewing decaf. Also, towards the end of the day, we shift to keeping Pike as our only brew, but with the machine we would now have the ability to serve a cup of bold or blonde to anyone who requests it. The machines should not be in use for generally brewing during peak times.

MagicKat May 22, 2012 at 7:53 am

I’m curious how we would accommodate an order of 7 coffee travelers at 6am with this. It sounds like an interesting project, but I’d like to know more about how the machine actually works in practice. Are there any Seattle area stores that have one?

jennifer May 22, 2012 at 8:25 am

@ MagicKat- Do you really believe that would ever happen? There are very practical applications for this machine, there is no reason to look at the fantastical.

jennifer May 22, 2012 at 8:25 am

@ MagicKat- Do you really believe that would ever happen? There are very practical applications for this machine, there is no reason to look at the fantastical.

Hayley May 22, 2012 at 9:58 am

Here’s what I like:
- You can see the coffee beans in the hopper and the different roast levels. I love the way the blonde beans look next to the dark roasts.
- I like the theory of it saving time for the baristas and they could focus on customer experience and sampling
- In my opinion it is visually appealing, probably because you can see the coffee beans

What I don’t like (or don’t know):
- I do somewhat agree to it being automated and similar to a coffee vending machine or really more like a giant Keurig.
- How it will change the flavor profile versus traditional brewing methods.

I guess it’s really all in how the coffee tastes ultimately. If it still produces a wonderful cup of coffee, then I’m all for it.
Do we have any idea on the test city? Is it in Seattle only?

Becca May 22, 2012 at 10:03 am

@Jennifer It is very common for a large order to be placed and picked up mid rush. They want to take it to work/meetings with them on their way. For example on Thursday mornings we have a standing cambro ( 125 tall coffee container ) that gets picked up at 8am. Thursday is our second busiest day of the week. It is hard to keep all the coffee you need to sell to customers and make 4-5 full batches to put into the cambro order and generally the line is to the door.

MagicKat May 22, 2012 at 10:06 am

@jennifer It happens at my store once a month for the local swim meet. Also, we have at least 3 travelers by 7am every morning Monday through Friday ordered by a local business owner for his clients. I promise I’m thinking practical, for my store at least. :)

@Hayley I completely agree that it’s a beautiful machine! I would love to see something that pretty on the counter at my store, the current brewers pale in comparison.

Dave Wakeman May 22, 2012 at 11:05 am

I like the concept of this machine, but I think I am with DadCooks on the need for more human interaction. Starbucks was built on the experience and I think that this could present a slippery slope to more automation at the expense of the customer experience.

One of the things I like about the Clover experience is that it really allows a good barista to shine. And, if can really extend the Starbucks experience.

For me, I’d prefer to see more emphasis placed on the Clover.

Allie | Ramblings of a WAHM May 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm

No, I like that I have baristas that I like to make my coffee a certain way. That special barista that nails it.

Beware baristas, this will replace you eventually. Automation replaces people.

Please Starbucks, stay personable and pleasurable. I’d rather wait. Loyal SB drinkers know it takes a while to make that great latte.

~Allie

denise r May 22, 2012 at 2:06 pm

still agreeing with several of the comments (don’t think this is a good direction). Back in the days of manual shots, I had plenty of time to form relationships/conversations with the baristas. So, the idea of ‘saving time’ so the baristas can have more interaction w/ the customer is….. not really accurate to me. (take away the frappucinnos and the baristas would have plenty more time for this ‘interaction’ with customers….which of course we know will never happen….)
As Allie wrote: I’d rather wait!

Hayley May 22, 2012 at 2:31 pm

I personally don’t see this as replacing the baristas or relationships. They still have to prepare the cup of coffee for the customer. They only thing I see it replacing is the need to throw out and freshly brew a batch of coffee. That’s not really something the barista does while simultaneously interacting with the customer, unlike preparing an espresso beverage. Maybe I’m wrong, but most of the interacting comes in the ordering and preparing the drink or actually pouring the already made coffee. This way every cup will be freshly ground.

DadCooks May 22, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I am having to restrain myself as I feel a long dissertation coming on. I’ll try to be brief, please bear with me.

How has labor coverage decreased over the years? Substantially I would venture as evidenced by the increase in automation and the decrease in customer interaction and decrease in store condition.

Starbucks used to have almost 100% dedicated Baristas. Now they have at least 60% baristas who do not care. Why are the Partners being asked to do more in less and less time? Because the labor costs have gone through the roof. The minimum wage laws are out of control. Because they are so high (no they are not high enough for a “living wage” but that discussion would make this dissertation a lot longer) Starbucks cannot afford to hire entry level part timers to do the basics (stock, brew, clean). Businesses used to be able to hire high school students who would learn the business from the floor up (literally). There has been an evolution that has destroyed this ability.

I grew up in a day before minimum wage affected every business. Minimum wage has not improved a person’s earning ability or job advancement prospects. Instead we have high unemployment, limited career advancement, and real wage stagnation, not to mention poor customer service and a decrease in product quality. We have all become disposable.

GAStarbucksGirl May 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm

hummmmmmm… IDK how I feel about this. There would still have to be provisions to brew large amounts of coffee for cambros and travelers. It sounds like it would take a load off the R1 Barista. Maybe it’s fresher? Couldn’t possibly be faster, could it? Or maybe it’s just a continuation of the slippery slide down the mountain of ‘dumbing down of coffee’ that we seem to have been taking over the course of the past few years. I feel it must be the latter, unfortunately. We. Shall. See. I’m sure.

I recently visited a coffee shop that ONLY did French presses, not that we could ever be that again, but it was so refreshing, so pure…

Chgo. May 22, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I have to agree with most of the comments, especially DadCooks. For the longest time, I’ve felt Starbucks was heading down the road of One step forward, Two steps back. Now it seems that so much of what they do is always two steps back. It would be nice if they took two steps backwards once in awhile in a positive sense. I don’t like anything about this machine. I can see the positives in this for some people, but talk about ruining what’s left of Starbucks character. I’m thinking something in line with what McDonalds would do, but I would settle for something out of 7-11 like Denise said.

As a person who should be drinking decaf, one would think this machine would make somebody like me happy, but it doesn’t. I would gladly give up decaf just not to have this machine. LOL! I must remind myself that it wouldn’t make a difference anyhow. I don’t believe there is any good decaf left to give up.

CD May 22, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I usually agree with DadCooks, denise and company, but I think with this one I don’t. I stopped buying espresso-based drinks from Starbucks when the quality dropped because of the switch to automatic machines. The Mastrena does a better job than the Verisimo did, but I now drink plain coffee at Starbucks (or a Clover coffee at a Clover location).

For me, there’s a big difference between the automatic espresso machines and automated drip machines. As someone who does not like PPR or Blonde roast, I have suffered from many a weak and/or lackadaisical pour-over. I like the idea of having a properly brewed cup of coffee on demand. Yes, it won’t be as “hand crafted” as a pour-over, but I’ve had far too many of those that were made with more resentment than passion so I would prefer to have the machine make my coffee and take my chance at engaging the partner with my charming wit! ;-)

Of course, if this just means more labor cuts, then I have a problem with that – Starbucks has already dented their experience quite significantly over the years so as long as this doesn’t negatively impact labor, I actually support it.

denise r May 23, 2012 at 4:50 am

1)@DadC…you had me laughing out loud in your first line! :) and I agree with every word.
2)also agree with CD……. to some degree..on this one. One thing is about espresso and this is about “brewed”….except it’s push-button……kind of like what happened to espresso. ???

(of course, you too Chgo…. agree as we all agree with each other:)…..would you really give up decaf? just joking but you might enjoy your coffee even more!

John May 23, 2012 at 7:20 am

I don’t understand how this brewer is anything like the automatic espresso machine. The current bunn brewer in Starbucks stores is push button. This new brewer eliminates all the bad things about the current way coffee is brewed at Starbucks.
-Grounds in your coffee
-Coffee runs out – wait 5 minutes
-Long lines because the barista has to turn around and brew coffee for a minute every 8 minutes
-Barista neglects the coffee cadence and you get old, stale coffee
-No dark roast offering or decaf in the evening

I honestly can’t think of one negative thing about this – fresh, just brewed coffee and the barista can focus on the customers.

And for those of you who want Starbucks to go back in time to manual espresso machines – that ship has sailed. Speed of service grows transactions – my morning customers don’t have 15 minutes to wait for their latte.

denise r May 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm

@John: for those of us who do taste the huge difference in the automated shots, I think most of us realize that will never come back to Sbux. or, maybe Sbux…as it seems to be well on its way doing…will just become the coffee shop we NEVER thought possible. (ie: frapps, smoothies, BLONDE roast, PPR, popcorn, push buttons etc) I’m not being sarcastic; many of us never thought those things would happen..not in Sbux. Hell, H.S. just said about 6yrs ago, more or less: Sbux would NEVER brew a light roast.
I never EVER use the ‘automated’ lines (do-it-yourself) in any grocery or Costco because there’s only one thing intended, eventually…imo…and that’s the loss of human beings doing these jobs. I realize many many people and companies want FAST quick service. Mostly I think they’re in a much younger generation than I am. (and DadC etc) And of course, it’s $$$$$$$$$ for the business: less labor, more sales etc.
There are some good coffee shops around..real ones that still pull manual shots. When I first went to Intelligentsia here in Chicago…which is quite good, I asked them would they be expanding much. They immediately said ‘no, they did not want to do want Sbux did’……which around here is one Sbux on every corner in the loop, sometimes even 2 in a block. and they have an appreciation for a good manual shot.
Please don’t mistake my words: I’m still a diehard Sbux customer but I have become increasingly disappointed more and more.
Hopefully, as it usually does, the pendulum will swing. I’m just not sure I’ll still be around! :(

Kate May 25, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Well it looks cool..i’ll say that..but idk if i would want that in my store..just seems like everything is becoming so automated.

Chgo. May 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm

@Denise – I meant to answer you sooner, but I have been really busy for the past couple weeks on a personal level, so my mind is in a million places. Anyhow….. I have pretty much given up on decaf. I drink decaf if I am feeling anxious. What choices are left for me? I’m not a big fan of the Decaf Sumatra. Decaf Pike Place maybe when I’m desperate? I really miss Verona Decaf. The biggest culprit for me taking a pass on Decaf has been that darn Clover. I’m hooked on Reserve Coffee and that doesn’t come in Decaf, so that pretty much sums things up. I will however only drink Decaf on a Clover because it taste better – even PPR.

Aaron Burdick May 26, 2012 at 8:52 am

Really interesting, i’d love to see it actually in use!

Melody May 26, 2012 at 9:37 am

I’ve been meaning to come back to this thread for a long time, but haven’t had the time during the week. Certainly it seems that the image of this machine is something that is a barrier to its introduction. As if perhaps, for many individuals, “big clunky looking machine” equates to “7-11 machine” regardless if that is true. I can see where that mental imagery comes from.
My own experience with this machine is that it produces an awesome cup of coffee. Fresh hot. I totally support the introduction of this. Too many pour overs deliver a cup of coffee with some grounds, or not quite hot enough for the customer’s liking, and this is a problem in delivering decaf and bold in many stores.
I wish I had had a stop watch with me to see if my cup of coffee had been 12 seconds, or 20 seconds or what. I just know that it felt fast. But I really do see the problem with those coffee travelers that Starbucks offers. I wonder how that would work with this machine.

I guess it’s all a moot point. I had taken the first photo back in December 2011. I know the person who took the photo here, and it was within the past month. But I heard from someone in the know that this automatic coffee brewer has just recently been pulled out of this store. I guess it was roughly a 5 to 6 month test.

Maybe we will see another episode of this. Starbucks is known to give products/beverages multiple rounds of testing, after design/recipe tweaks. We’ll see.

Chgo. May 26, 2012 at 12:04 pm

My problem with the machine isn’t whether it makes a good cup of coffee or not. I think of the words “Never say Never!” There seems to be a lot of that going around these days. So… How long before this makes it to the front of the store and takes paper money and gives change? Never say Never! Large grocery chains and big box stores have successfully moved to Self Check Out Lanes. I can’t help wondering why any partner wouldn’t view such a machine as a minimal threat for now? If the machine is that good, why not worry? Can anybody explain one instance where technology hasn’t taken jobs away from somebody?

My dislike of the machine revolves around the loss of the experience, but more so on how I feel about the partners I deal with on a daily basis. If the partners don’t view this as a possible threat, then who am I to stand in the way of progress? Just remember to be careful what you wish for!

Chris W. May 27, 2012 at 11:29 am

These types of comments frustrate me as a store manager. There is nothing wrong with the coffee cadence, provided the partners understand it correctly. It keeps fresh coffee available for customers during the rush, yet with batch sizes it’s flexible for adjusting to various needs such as travelers, cambros, large orders, etc.
Brewing coffee is customer service. This is a huge frustration of mine in other stores, and with my newer partners. Telling someone you need to take 15 seconds to brew new coffee is part of the overall experience for all customers. Ignoring the cadence and subsequently running out of coffee can’t be considered good customer service, right?
While I love seeing these test brewers in action, I’m sure they are really a one-off. Truly busy drip stores are always going to need larger capacity brewers.

Texan Barista June 5, 2012 at 10:39 am

The question that needs to be answered is why? Why would Starbucks employ an automated brewing station like this? The idea that this is to replace humans is nonsense. No one single person is responsible for simply brewing coffee and nothing else. Let’s not forget that creating inspired moments in each customer’s day is at the core of the Starbucks experience so replacing people with machines isn’t at the top of Starbucks list of priorities. Will it save time? Probably, but I can’t imagine that the time savings will be monumental as the cadence itself does use up huge amounts of time. So why would Starbucks employ a machine like this?

The first thing that comes to mind is quality. With this machine the beans are seemingly ground to order. The amount of beans used will be the same every time. This allows for a repeatable routine that will be more consistent than a human scooping beans by volume rather than weight. Freshly ground coffee made to order is one of the value propositions that specialty coffee purveyors provide. You see this a lot with the specialty coffee shops that are out there doing pour-overs only such as Blue Bottle Coffee or Intelligentsia. Howard Schultz even said a couple years ago that Blue Bottle Coffee was handing Starbucks its lunch. Blue Bottle customers will literally wait in line for 30 minutes for a pour-over coffee. Starbucks customers are unhappy if they have to wait 3 minutes. An automated machine such as this is most likely an attempt at improving the quality and speed of brewed coffee. On top of that, the cost savings on wasted coffee when scaled across a huge company like Starbucks should be significant.

All that said, Starbucks is a publicly traded company and Wall Street demands growth every quarter. Surely someone at Starbucks is looking at the possibilities for a machine like this when it comes to serving areas that may not be able to support a full-fledged Starbucks store. Perhaps this machine will be turned into a vending machine in some locations for those customers who simply want a brewed coffee and choose McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts based on time not quality. We’ve all seen those customers who open the door at Starbucks, take one look at the line, then turn around and walk away.

Dry Sharpie July 31, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Mother of God. There will come a point where you won’t even need baristas to run a store. I left at an opportune moment.

Melody July 31, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Hi DrySharpie. Sorry I’m on my phone so this is short & sloppy. I’ve heard that the auto brewers were pulled. It’s a test that went nowhere. Starbucks tests so many things. Hope you like my small blog. Thanks, Melody

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